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What Happens If You Disobey a Flight Attendant?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

From refusing to "power down" electronic devices to dressing scantily, passengers regularly get in trouble for giving the cold shoulder to flight attendants' orders.

But legally speaking, what can happen when you disobey a flight attendant?

Potential Criminal Consequences

Federal law prohibits passengers from interfering or physically assaulting (or threatening to physically assault) airline crew members.

This means injuring or intimidating a crew member -- or attempting to do so -- can result in a felony conviction if the defendant has interfered with the performance of the crew member's duties.

Using a dangerous weapon -- basically, any object that can cause death or serious bodily injury -- will result in even harsher penalties.

Apart from assault, a passenger who gets in the way of a crew member's ability to perform his or her job can be fined by the Federal Aviation Administration or even prosecuted on criminal charges, depending on the severity of the interference.

Flight crew interference incidents can result in up to 20 years' imprisonment and fines of up to $250,000, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Potential Civil Consequences

Acts of interference that don't quite rise to the level of criminal conduct can still warrant hefty fines by the FAA.

In fact, the FAA can propose up to $25,000 per violation for unruly passenger cases. One incident can result in multiple violations, according to the FAA's website.

A slew of disruptive behaviors can be considered interference, including:

  • Flashing a laser beam from the ground
  • Physically blocking crew members' access in the aisle or galley
  • Threatening a crew member
  • Disobeying crew members' repeated requests

This list is by no means exhaustive. As a general rule of thumb, if the conduct is offensive or disruptive and distracts the crew, it may be considered actionable interference.

The repercussions for passengers who engage in unruly behavior can be substantial, so if an attendant instructs you to do something, you'd best listen up. Otherwise, your next destination could potentially be a jail cell, a courtroom, or the office of an experienced criminal defense lawyer near you.

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